Thursday, 19 March 2015

Back to Cornwall - part 3

Last Friday was my second day out with Jayne. We kicked things off by returning to the field at Gulval, haunt of the Little Bunting. This time, we were there alone, and after a few minutes the bunting flew into one of the trees that it had been frequenting before.

The light was better today, and so were the views. As we watched, the bunting came down to the ground to feed, and returned to some nice photogenic spots to pose. It is a great-looking little thing, all complex markings and lovely cream, smoke and chestnut tones.

Keeping it company, along with the aforementioned Chaffies, were a Robin, a couple of Dunnocks, and this lovely (though non-Siberian) Chiffchaff.

From here, we headed up to the Hayle estuary. It was markedly colder on the north coast than the south, and seriously breezy. We had a lovely walk around Copperhouse Creek, seeing Redshanks and Curlews plus many gulls (sadly not including any unusual species).

Overhead action included a Sparrowhawk and a couple of Common Buzzards. A small ornamental pond among pretty community gardens by the marshland was stuffed with fresh frogspawn.

We went on to Newquay after this, and a walk along the cliff edge, fighting the high winds which nearly knocked us over more than once, to a vantage point from where we could watch Fulmars and Kittiwakes. The Fulmars in particular provided some wonderful views.

Wonderful to be eye-to-eye with these gorgeous seabirds, even though I wished I had a zoom lens for some of the opportunities.

Actually, I DID have a zoom lens, but it was my short landscape one. Here's a look across the cliff edge and sea - stunning views, to which I really haven't done justice, but manoeuvering on the cliff-edge was tricky and I was quite keen not to be blown over.

The Kittiwakes (about 30 pairs I reckon) didn't come so close but still provided some great photo opportunities against the wild sea-and-rocks backdrop.

I didn't want to leave, but on the other hand it was freezing, and the idea of a hot beverage was becoming irresistably compelling, so we went back into Newquay and had tea at the cafe by the boating lake. The lake here was busy with gulls, many of which were amusing themselves by playing with twigs, discarded tennis balls and other random items. There were also assorted manky Mallards and some of the best-looking Feral Pigeons I've ever seen.

Two examples of the Handsome Ferals gang.

We then took a short walk down the Gannel Estuary, in search of another Iceland Gull, with no luck. Tide was low and there were many Oystercatchers foraging on the saltmarsh.

Once again, afternoon tea and cake was enjoyed at Marazion, and we decided to round off the day at Newlyn Harbour.

With a great effort of will I kept the birding lens in my bag, and took a few pics of the boats.

We found nothing unusual in the harbour today so the short lens was allowed to stay for the entireity of our visit. Here are a ton of Herring Gulls loitering hopefully by a recently arrived fishing boat.

And that's Cornwall, or bits of it, anyway. Hope y'all liked the pics. I gather that I got out of the county just in time, as the world and his wife (in fact, especially his wife) are heading there in droves in response to the BBC's new 'Poldark' series, starring the supernaturally stunning Aidan Turner, as well as the earthily stunning Cornish landscape. So I'm OK about leaving Cornwall for now, but I hope to make a return visit next winter.

Back in Cornwall - part 2

Last Tuesday I went birding with Jayne, and we visited a few places along the way to Falmouth. First stop was the boating lake at Helston, where we were led to believe we'd find an Iceland Gull, as well as a long-staying Whooper Swan.

The Whooper was easily findable, sitting on the bank surrounded by Mute Swans, and yodelling away to show us that it was very much not a mute swan in any sense of the word.

Although a wild bird, it has learned not to be bothered by people in the least, especially when they have just bought a bag of duck food from the boating lake cafe.

Also on the lake were fair numbers of Tufties and Shovelers, plus Mallards, including these four (one a barnyard special) that were showing signs of springtime friskiness. Also many Black-headed and Herring Gulls and one Lesser Black-back, but no Iceland Gull.

We decided to go over the road to the local sewage works, where Jayne had found a probable Siberian Chiffchaff the week before. There were a few Chiffchaffs in the scrub around the aromatic main workings of the place but no obviously Sibe-esque ones. Then I got onto a smaller bird which I saw was a 'crest - and to our joy it proved to be a Firecrest.

We took countless shots as it moved up the slope via trees and bushes, and while most of my pics show just a vaguely bird-shaped blur vanishing out of the edge of the frame I did get a couple of good 'uns. Very happy with our success, we went back to the lake for another look for the Iceland, but while a few extra gulls had arrived, our target bird wasn't among them.

On to Swanpool, a small nature reserve set around a walk-round-able lake, just on the edge of Falmouth. Here there was a Long-tailed Duck, and a first-winter Ring-billed Gull, both long-stayers. We located the former straight away from a scan across the water - it was out in the middle. I took a couple of record shots but felt confident that we'd have better views from further around.

Halfway round, a Grey Heron sitting glumly in an inlet.

At the bottom end of the lake, we found the Ring-billed Gull, exactly where Jayne said it would be. It was close to the shore, and rushed over for point-blank views when the bag of duck food appeared. It was a delightful bird, a stereotypically brash American that shouted loudly for attention and jumped on all other gulls that went anywhere near it.

A few of young Ring-bill's more striking poses. Compared to British species, it most resembles a young Common Gull but is really quite distinctive, in both appearance and manner. I loved it :)

Oddly, the Long-tailed Duck now had gone AWOL, lengthy scans from all points of the lake on the rest of our walk failed to produce it. So the better pics I'd hoped for didn't happen. We did add Little Grebe to the day list on the walk back.

At the top of the lake, a trio of Mute Swans came swishing impressively overhead.

There then followed an interval of looking unsuccessfully for a Black Redstart on a random residential street in Falmouth, and a look at the very beautiful but birdless beach. I didn't bring the landscape lens on this occasion so you'll just have to take my word that it was a beautiful beach.

Then we went to Gulval, near Penzance, to see if we could find yet another long-staying 'rare', a Little Bunting. We did see it, distantly (and a little less distantly through another birder's scope) but the photos were not up to much. There is more to come on the bunting though... Meanwhile, with time getting on, we decided to head back west and stop off for refreshments at Marazion.

The very cheery and amusing lady in the tiny beachside cafe served us tea and cake, and as we enjoyed these we watched Pied Wagtails and Rock Pipits in the car park, and this stern-looking Herring Gull pointing out that this is not a free car park (most of the ones we stopped at today were free, though only because it's not yet 'the season').

Then we crossed the road for a look at Marazion Marsh. A lone Little Egret wandered the shore, while further out a few Teal and a couple of Canada x Greylag hybrids swam in the shallows.

Then overhead flicked the unmistakeable shape of a hirundine - a Sand Martin, my first proper 2015 summer migrant. It was one of two, zipping over the water and hopefully finding something to eat after its long journey.

Last birds of the day were a pair of Stonechats, the male singing lustily as befits a bird on its breeding grounds.

Back in Cornwall - part 1

Thanks to Lisa, I once again had the chance of a stay in Mousehole, SW Cornwall, this March. Had a couple of great birding days out with Jayne, and also some nice walks locally. There are, of course, a ridiculous number of photos but I'll try to break them down a bit. First of all, the local things.

As with March last year, there were not nearly so many seabirds around the Mousehole area as there were in February. I saw no auks or divers at all this time, nor any Kittiwakes. Even all the Shags I saw were young birds, presumably the adults are back at their colonies.

This one was just offshore at Mousehole. Also a couple in Newlyn Harbour.

Grey Seals were often offshore. I watched this one for ages as it loafed and dived in the lea of the lido.

 The afore-mentioned lido.

And while we're doing scenery, two views of Mousehole village - from harbour-level, and from way up on a path I found along the top of the village.

Back down to earth. Pied and Grey Wagtails and Rock Pipits found plenty to eat on the strandline.

I've noticed that the Fulmars that I suspect nest just around the corner towards Lamorna only seem to overfly the village on gloomy days. These two were way out over the sea, and sharing the airspace with the odd distant Gannet.

On my last-but-one day I walked west along the South-west Coast Path with my landscape lens, taking these pics among others. It was a sunnyish morning and in sheltered spots there were a few Small Tortoiseshells out and about.

Going the other way, towards Newlyn, where the South-west Coast Path is not a pretty rural pathway but just the pavement by the road into Penzance, I found a few random birds - House Sparrow, Collared Dove and Long-tailed Tit.

Also a few random plants - Gorse flowers, and a hyacinth sprouting in the tiny garden by the old lifeboat station at Penlee Point.

As usual, Newlyn harbour was thronged with super-confiding Turnstones...

... and Great Black-backed Gulls.